A Tazewell County jury will seek a verdict Wednesday in the felony trial of a former Pekin police officer accused of slapping a handcuffed teenager who insulted him.
The act in July of last year cost 39-year-old Nathan Ujinski his job after 13 years with the police department. The city Board of Fire and Police Commissioners in January found he had committed official misconduct as a department offense.
The same charge as a felony, and Ujinski’s same defense against it, went to trial Tuesday. The jury deliberated nearly two hours before it asked to return to work Wednesday morning.
A guilty verdict would prevent Ujinski from serving again as a police officer. He also would face between probation and five years in prison for the Class 3 felony.
A squad car’s video camera captured Ujinski slapping the face of a 16-year-old youth, handcuffed behind his back and tethered at his feet, immediately after the youth twice called him a “little bitch.” The youth had been arrested after an early-morning fight.
Ujinski’s attorney, Brian Addy, told the jury in closing arguments that the youth was “aggressive, profane and violent,” and obviously intoxicated as he struggled against efforts to place him in the squad car after receiving hospital treatment for injuries he’d received in the fight.
Ujinski testified he struck the youth because it was “possible” the youth could have head-butted him after he pulled the youth from behind into the squad’s rear seat. The youth had threatened hospital staff and police officers, and, “I just reacted” in self defense, he said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Johnson argued that the video clearly showed Ujinski stepping away from the youth after pulling him into the car, then stepping back and slapping him five times in the face after the youth uttered his insult.
Ujinski “could’ve said, ‘Enjoy the ride’ (to jail) and shut the door,” Johnson said. “Instead, he sank down to (the youth’s) level” and struck him.
“That wasn’t an act of self defense, it was an act of retribution,” Johnson said.
Two other officers testified Ujinski didn’t tell them at the scene that he had struck the youth.
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